The Ideal Road Not Taken – Just Do It

Cornell Chronicle: People are haunted more by regrets about failing to fulfil their hopes, goals, and aspiration than by regrets about failing to fulfil their duties, obligations and responsibilities.

The finding was published by psychologist and Cornell alumnus Tom Gilovich in his co-authored research with Shai Davidai titled ‘The Ideal Road Not Taken’.

The research builds on the idea of three elements which make up a person’s sense of self: the actual, ideal and the ‘ought’ selves. The actual self is made up of the attributes a person believes they possess. The ideal self is the attributes they would ideally like to possess, such as hopes, goals, aspirations or wishes. The ‘ought self’ is the person they feel they should have been based on duties, obligations and responsibilities, an example of ‘ought self’ is “to be a healthier person, I ought and should go to the gym more often.”

Research also has shown in short-term, people regret their actions more than inactions. However, in the long term, people tend to regret the things they hadn’t done rather than things they had.  This proves that people’s most enduring regrets in life come from discrepancies between their actual and ideal selves.

People tend to take more active steps to rectify regrets related to their ‘ought selves’ as they usually involve more concrete expectations and tangible results – which are easier to fulfil. In comparison to ideal-related regrets which tend to be general with no clear yardsticks, such as how to be a good parent, be a good boss and more.

As cliché as it may sound, the practical conclusion from this research emphasizes individuals to ‘just do it’, and don’t wait for inspiration, as inspiration arises from engaging in activity. Try to achieve your ideal goals and don’t worry how it will look to others or what they would say as people are more charitable than we think and also don’t notice us nearly as much as we think.

Cited from: Susan Kelly. Woulda,coulda,shoulda: the haunting regret of failing our ideal selves. New York: Cornell Chronicle, 24 May 2018